Lest We Forget: A Look Back at the 2016 Primaries

The World Today: False Choices – US Primaries 2016

Telesur (2016)

Film Review

This 2016 program was first broadcast the day after Super Tuesday, in which Bernie Sanders was the clear winner in three states. The documentary provides important perspective for the upcoming 2020 primares. In it, British historian and activist Tariq Ali interviews Liza Featherstone, author of False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton. The latter is a collection of essays by left-leaning feminists.

Featherstone brands Clinton as an “elite” feminist – in contrast to “true” feminists, who are antiwar, anti-imperialist and and anti-racist. Featherstone also brands Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright as elite feminists, for publicly belittling young women for supporting Bernie Sanders. A massive backlash would force both women to apologize.

Both and Ali and Featherstone agree on Sanders and Trump being protest candidates against a corrupt political establishment. Neither can see much difference between Clinton and the Bushes, given they all support the same neoconservative wars of empire. Ali highlights Clinton’s deliberate vote seeking among moderate Republicans, abandoning working class voters (eventually labeling them “deplorables”) comprising the traditional Democratic Party base prior to 1980.

Ali also reminds us that Sanders is the first socialist US presidential candidate in over 100 years. He attributes the allure of socialism for US youth to post-Cold War childhood free of constant anti-communist propagandizing. He gives the example of the election of socialist Kshama Savant to the Seattle City Council in 2013 and 2015 (she was just re-elected in November 2019).

Both Ali and Featherstone correctly predict that Trump will win the Republican nomination. They erroneously predict Clinton winning the presidency.

 

Capitalism: The Role of Violence Against Women

Sylvia Federici

Jan 9, 2019 talk

In this talk, Sylvia Federici, author of Caliban and the Witch (see Witch Burning and Women’s Oppression) discusses her two latest books Witches, Witch Hunting and Women and Re-Enchanting the World.

Witches, Witch Hunting and Women elaborates on two key premises: 1) that the extensive free labor women perform is fundamental to the success of capitalism and 2) that violence against women is never accidental. According to Federici, it’s “structural”, ie fundamental to the human exploitation necessary for capitalist accumulation.

Federici divides violence against women into three main categories: domestic, public and institutional. Domestic violence occurs in the context of a domestic relationship, public violence includes non-domestic rape, paramilitary violence and narco-trafficking, and institutional violence consists of police violence, female incarceration (which is increasing) and criminalization of pregnancy.

Federici is also concerned about the growing frequency of actual witchcraft accusations in Latin America, India and Africa. She blames this on what she refers to as “re-colonization,” aka globalization, whereby millions of poor peasants are being driven off their land and turned into refugees. The original witchcraft trials occurred during the 16th and 17th century enclosures, when people were being violently thrown off of communal land.

Re-Enchanting the World, the second book she describes, depicts how this violent dispossession also destroys the community ties and solidarity working people rely on to resist capitalist violence. It strikes a positive note in describing how Latin American women who are forced to urbanize (after losing their land) are starting to collectivize to meet their survival needs. Examples include organizing to fight for access to water and power and to build schools and clinics.

Patriarchy: An Anthropological Study

 

The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time

by Elise Boulding

Westview Press (1976)

Book Review

Published at the height of the women’s movement, this is a remarkable read. The first book of its kind, it employs extensive anthropological and historical evidence to trace the contribution of women to the rise of civilization. In most historical accounts, the role of women in development has been largely invisible

Beginning with the appearance of our hominid ancestors in Africa two million years ago, Boulding traces their migration to the Middle East, Europe, Asia and North and South America – highlighting the early civilizations that developed in each of these regions. She concludes with the current role of women in each of these geographical areas.

The part of the book I found most surprising describes the role women played in inventing tools from pebbles, bones and skulls to use in food preparation. They also invented ceramic pots and bags made of animal skins to store it and built huts to provide a protected space for child rearing.

During the hunter gather period, men and women played an equal role in production activities and decision making. After they learned to grow their own crops (following a decline in large game animals), women tended to be dominant because hunting was precarious and men relied on women for food. Women also had charge of the first domesticated animals (goats, sheep and pigs) and passed control of their land and livestock in a matrinlineal pattern.

Better access to food increase population density, which in turn necessitated an increase in food production. This led to the discovery of the plow and the domestication of cattle, which shifted basic control of food production to men. They, in turn, assigned women secondary tasks, such as weeding and collecting firewood and water.

The discovery of mining and metal working technology occurred around the same time, which would lead to the rise of trading economies and armies to protect settlers against raiding hunter gatherers. With the rise of cities and militarization, societies were “stratified” for the first time. “Stratification” and the rise of an idle ruling elite (kings and priests) would lead to the development of a social hierarchy that tended excluded women from public spaces and confined them to domestic labor at home.

According to Boulding, women still played a number of public leadership roles during antiquity and the Middle Ages – a privilege they lost during the Industrial Revolution.

 

No Maternity Leave? Only in the US

Maternity Leave and Why the US is the Only Developed Nation Without It

Broadly (2016)

Film Review

Maternity Leave focuses on the failure of the US government to offer working mothers paid maternity leave. The US is one of two countries globally (the other is Papua New Guinea) and the only developed country without it. The rest of the world provides paid maternity leave for two simple reasons: 1) because spending time with mom is vital to newborn development and 2) because studies show financial advantages for employers, taxpayers and GDP.

Three states require employers to provide paid maternity leave: California six weeks at 55% salary, Rhode Island four weeks at 60% salary and New Jersey six weeks at 67% salary.

Ninety percent of California businesses report an increase in profitability (owing to the high cost of recruiting and training replacement workers) since they started providing paid maternity leave. Nationwide replacement workers for women who leave work to start a family cost billions of dollars. Forty percent of women without access to paid maternity leave are forced to apply for public assistance, which is also a major burden to taxpayers.

The filmmakers visit excruciatingly poor Papua New Guinea, to investigate their failure to provide paid maternity to leave – only to discover the government of Papua New Guinea provides three months paid maternity leave for public employees. This is a start contrast with an extremely anemic executive order Obama signed in 2015 allowing federal employees to “pre-use” six weeks of paid sick leave (which they haven’t earned yet) as maternity leave.

The filmmakers also visit Sweden, which has the world’s best maternity leave policy. Their generous paid parental leave (480 days per child split between both parents) has helped to bring more Swedish women into the workforce while simultaneously increasing GDP.

They interview a member of Sweden’s Feminist Party, who maintains that paid maternity leave is a matter of full equality for women. True equality means that women enjoy the same rights as men to both a job and family time – they shouldn’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

Real equality also means embracing and valuing traditional women’s work (homemaking, child care and elder care).

The Mommy Tax

the price of motherhood

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World is still the Least Valued

By Ann Crittenden

Henry Holt and Company (2001)

Book Review

The Price of Motherhood is about the refusal of English-speaking countries to acknowledge the vast amount of unpaid labor women invest in their children. Economists agree that two-thirds of society’s wealth is created by human skills, aka human capital. Yet they also refuse to acknowledge thirty years of psychology research demonstrating that the most critical education producing this “human capital” occurs in the first five years of life.

Not only is most of this work unpaid, but mothers who require part time or flexible work arrangements to address their children’s needs pay an enormous penalty in terms of lifelong earning potential. Crittenden refers to this penalty as the “mommy tax.”

According to Crittendon, while the pay differential between men and women continues to narrow, there has been virtually no change in the pay gap between mothers and unencumbered men and women. Numerous studies identify this “mommy tax,” consistently highest in English-speaking countries, as the primary cause of child poverty in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Likewise a woman’s “choice” to become a parent is the number one cause of poverty in old age.

Crittenden contrasts the US with France and various Scandinavian countries that support working mothers through policies such as free health care, one year paid maternity leave*, and free childcare. Child poverty virtually unknown in France and Scandinavia. In contrast 22% of American and 25% of New Zealand kids grow up in poverty.

The book is also highly critical of economists’ failure to count women’s unpaid labor in the GDP, given its high importance in creating a skilled workforce.** Despite the US refusal to keep data on “non-market” labor (where no money changes hands), more civilized countries do. Crittenden cites figures from Australia (where it comprises 48-64% of GDP), Germany (where it comprises 55% of GDP, Canada (where it comprises 40% of GDP), and Finland (where it comprises 46% of GDP).

Besides including “non-market” labor in the GDP calculations, the book proposes a number of other policy changes to reduce or eliminate the mommy tax. They include federal laws mandating one year paid parental leave, free health care for all children and primary caregivers, and free preschool for three and four year olds; a shorter work week; and equal pay and benefits for part time work. They also include a federal ban on discrimination against parents in the workplace, a universal child benefit, the creation of a single federal agency to collect child support obligations, and a federal mandate requiring divorce courts to award both parents an equal standard of living where there are dependent children.


*The only six countries that fail to mandate paid maternity leave are the US, Australia, New Zealand, Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

**See review of Marilyn Waring film Whose Counting

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

BBC (1986)

Film Review

A dramatization of Fay Weldon’s 1983 classic, The Life and Loves of a She-Devil is a satire about the sexist and exploitive nature of romantic love.

The heroine is a very ugly woman named Ruth who ingeniously manipulates her husband’s innate sexism to wreak vengeance on him and his beautiful rich mistress Mary Fisher.

Both the book and the dramatization focus on society’s use of romantic love to glamorize the vast amount of unpaid labor women perform for men and society in general.

As Weldon puts it (in the words of a Catholic priest Fisher “seduces”), “love robs women of their identity and creative selves.”

The video below comprises all four episodes in the 1986 series.

The Women Who Brought You the 20th Century

dreamers of a new day

Dreamers of a New Day: Women Who Invented the Twentieth Century

By Sheila Rowbotham (2010)

Book Review

Dreamers of a New Day is about the first international feminist movement in the 1880s and the profound influence feminist organizers and writers had over 20th century life. Most of the women Rowbotham identifies by name are invisible to mainstream society – despite the critical importance of the major social reforms and institutions they fought for and won.

The period 1880-1929 was notable for the wide adoption of mass production and communication, the obliteration of rural life and the treacherous economic instability resulting in recurrent panics and recessions. These major social changes triggered a broad range of anti-authoritarian social movements, including socialism, anarchism, utopianism, populism and numerous other trade union and reform movements. As in the anti-authoritarian sixties, women naturally questioned why the new freedoms men were seeking shouldn’t apply to them, as well. This, in turn, led to the creation of numerous  revolutionary and reformist women-led groups.

The Campaign for Social and Economic Equality

Contrary to what they teach in high school, the first women’s liberation movement fought for far more than the right to vote. Early feminists campaigned (and won) equal access to higher education and professions previously closed to them (eg medicine, law, pharmacy, veterinary medicine) and housekeeping arrangements that enabled mothers to meet their children’s needs while simultaneously pursuing careers. The period 1880-1929 saw a lot of experimentation with cooperative kitchens, laundries, bakeries and child care facilities.

The Feminist Campaign for Clean Drinking Water, Sanitation, Birth Control and the Shorter Work Week

The settlement house movement was a direct outgrowth of the feminist movement. Early women-run settlement houses typically offered communal kitchens, organizing facilities for women’s trade unions (the Working Women’s Union was formed in 1881), childcare and parenting advice. The settlement houses (Jane Adams’s Hull House in Chicago is the best known), which were often linked with universities, were directly responsible for the development of the new fields of social science and social work, which scientifically studied the needs of children and families.

These early feminist groups also led campaigns (which they won) for clean drinking water, sanitation services, clean safe streets, housing more conducive to children’s needs, an end to child labor and sweat shops, a shorter work week, subsidized state housing, and maternity benefits for destitute mothers (established in at least a dozen states before Roosevelt enacted the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program in 1935).

On the sexual front, feminists campaigned for (and won) sexual equality to men, including equal access to divorce and equal access to guardianship of children (prior to 1900 wives and children were viewed as the property of men), the right to dress as they pleased, engage in “free love,” legally access birth control and birth control information (illegal under the Comstock Law in the US and the Obscenity Law in the UK), the right to say “cunt,” “cock,” and “fuck” without going to jail, and medical reforms to reduce maternal mortality (in the 1920s, it was four times as dangerous to give birth as to work in the mines).